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Holocaust survivors back criminalizing Nazi symbols (JERUSALEM POST) By JOANNA PARASZCZUK 05/30/12)Source: http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=272061 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Holocaust survivors and attorneys representing them called on Wednesday for Knesset to approve a controversial bill that would make using Nazi and Holocaust symbols a criminal offense.

While civil rights groups argued the bill would harm freedom of expression, Holocaust survivors said that while free speech was important, there should be limits.

"Politics cannot reduce the importance of the Shoah to the Israeli people," said Holocaust survivor Miriam Grieber.

Attorney Uri Weisenberg from the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel (COHS) said any and all use of Nazi or Holocaust symbols should be outlawed.

"Freedom of expression of great value," Weisenberg said. "But it is not the ultimate sacred value."

The remarks came during a hearing of the Knesset´s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which convened to prepare the proposed legislation, dubbed the Nazi Symbols Bill, for its first reading in Knesset.

The Nazi Symbols Bill is a combination of four separate bills, all of which seek to criminalize the use of Nazi symbols.

While public display of Nazi symbols is banned in several countries, including Germany, Hungary and Poland, it is legal in Israel.

In recent months, secular and religious Israelis have come under fire for using Nazi symbols or the term "Nazi" as a provocative way to hit out at political opponents.

In January, Holocaust survivors and survivors´ organizations condemned ultra-Orthodox protesters in Beit Shemesh for using Holocaust imagery during demonstrations, during which some people wore concentration camp uniforms and yellow Stars of David.

Meanwhile, the Im Tirtzu movement is suing a group of left-wing activists who dubbed them "fascists". An attorney representing Im Tirtzu said the remarks linked the Israeli movement to the Nazis.

The first two bills, proposed by MK Uri Ariel (National Union) and MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), would make it a criminal offense to use any Nazi symbol, as well as the improper use of Holocaust symbols - including wearing yellow Stars of David and concentration camp prisoner uniforms.

The same bills also make it a criminal offense to use the term "Nazi" as an pejorative term for another person, including by expressing hope that the Nazis´ goals of exterminating the Jewish people will eventually be realized, or by expressing regret that those genocidal goals were not fulfilled.

The law would be punishable by six months in prison and a hefty fine.

However, calling a person a Nazi would not be an offense if it were proved to be true, or if done within the context of historical or scientific research or reporting.

Meanwhile, MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima)´s bill proposes prohibiting the use of any Holocaust or Nazi-linked icon or call anyone a Nazi- linked name. Violation of the law would be a civil wrong punishable by one year in prison.

The fourth bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) proposes banning Holocaust-related symbols in all advertising and commercial materials unless approved by the Interior Ministry.

In Wednesday´s committee hearing, MK Solodkin said she felt her bill was important because "the Jewish people must not belittle the Holocaust".

Meanwhile, MKs on the left and civil rights groups opposed the criminalization of Nazi symbols, saying the bill was "problematic and dangerous".

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said that whilst there is no doubt the Holocaust was a "traumatic event in Jewish history" and a particularly sensitive subject that caused pain when certain symbols were used, the proposed bill was an "insult to freedom of expression."

Khenin said the bill would also harm the memory of the Holocaust.

Attorney Lila Margalit of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) also attended the hearing, and expressed her opposition to the bill.

"The importance and centrality of the Holocaust serve only to exacerbate the gravity of this attempt to dictate when and in what context it is permissible to mention this event," Margalit wrote in a letter to committee chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) on Tuesday.

When MK Rotem asked Margalit whether she considered incitement to racism as freedom of expression, the ACRI attorney replied that the use of Holocaust symbols, even yellow Stars of David, are "legitimate protest".

Attorney Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute also argued that freedom of expression should only curtailed in extreme situations, such as when an act could harm state security or a person´s good name.

"Dressing a public figure in a Nazi uniform is such an extreme case," he said.

Meanwhile, MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) backed the bill, criticizing left-wing activists for inciting against the Haredi community.

Eichler said the Israeli media had published cartoons making fun of the ultra-Orthodox public in ways reminiscent of the Holocaust.

COHS attorney Weisenberg pointed out that the Nazis had not differentiated between religious and secular Jews.

No decision regarding the proposed legislation was reached on Wednesday, and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is expected to convene again shortly to debate the bill. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/30/12)

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